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  1. #1

    Question How to learn individual notes?

    Heartfelt thanks to all of you from a relative newby! I've learned so much by eavesdropping here. I'm starting my first thread (gulp) to ask for advice about sorting out the notes in frags. How did others here get access to individual oils and extracts, etc? I've done some smearing and sniffing in organic food co-ops and so forth but this will only get you so far. A small selection of EO's won't help with synthetics or with accords, which can be so subtley intertwined that it's really hard to tell what the individual notes are.

    (Had a recent experience mixing my own frag at an aromatherapy shop with a pretty wide selection of stuff, which was very helpful and fun. It opened my eyes (nose?) to the differences between, say, vetivers and sandalwoods from different sources: what huge complexity! The actual juice is not great, quite heady and dominated by monster jasmine notes. The vetiver, sandalwood, and moss underneath aren't making much of an appearance yet. Although it is starting to calm down after a couple weeks sitting in its vial of alcohol.)

    So, those of you who are able to name notes with such wonderful specificity: how on earth did you get your educations?

  2. #2

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    One of my best places to learn notes is in the kitchen. If you have a well-stocked spice rack, start there. I already liked to cook when I started here, so I was golden. As for other notes, just take opportunities as they come. When I'm in home depot, i'll sometimes discreetly smell the cedar racks...etc.

    Also, there are many "one note" fragrances that are designed to display only a certain note. Usually if you type in the name of the note in the title of the fragrance prompt in the directory seach engine, you'll get a list of niche frags that revolve around that note. You'll figure out which are the most accurate representations by reading the reviews. Try Tam Dao by Diptyque for a sandalwood demonstration (it wouldn't come up in a "sandalwood" title search, so i'll tell you here). Or search the name of the note in the community search. There are threads devoted to most of the "main" notes that will have many reccommendations. Then order samples!!

    Good luck!
    "It's not what you look like when you're doing what you're doing; it's what you're doing when you're doing what you look like you're doing."

  3. #3

    Smile Re: How to learn individual notes?

    Thanks, LiveJazz! It hadn't occured to me to just go smell lumber and spices. It's a great idea! Do you have excuses ready for when the manager and two guys from security approach you moving fast? I've gone into one small boutique four or five times and it seems like the SA thinks I'm weird to be spraying several frags at a time up and down my arms. And I haven't even started smelling the carpet or the chairs yet.

    It's true that what I need is not necessarily access to all the chemicals in frags, but also just some help with my tiny vocabulary to describe smells generally. And it seems like if I can't name a smell somehow it doesn't stick in my memory, or at least not in conscious memory. I'll also do some more homework looking for threads devoted to particular notes.

    If it's not too much to ask, it would be really interesting to hear stories about how people got into fragrances and started to learn. It's easy to feel like everyone here sort dropped from the skies fully formed or something. Not that I'm not enjoying my ignorance. It's quite wonderful at midlife to have something very new to sit with, wonder about.

  4. #4

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    go to a whole foods/natural foods type store. there are usually essential oils for sale and you can smell the testers. you'll be able to tick off many notes there.

  5. #5

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    One way to learn would be to memorize the scent pyramid for what you wear and wear it exclusively till you can identify each note.

    Perfumers are called "noses" when they can identify the components in a specified amount of time. The number one nose is expected to rattle them off blindfolded either he or the bottle is not identified before the droplets hit the floor. I can do it with citrus so far if it's orange.

    Buy a nice ceder chest. No moths or other bugs like it and there are thousands of hungry woodworkers out there.
    Last edited by fredricktoo; 25th February 2007 at 07:34 PM.

  6. #6

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strollyourlobster
    It's easy to feel like everyone here sort dropped from the skies fully formed or something.
    Surely nobody here did. But when I started about one and a half year ago I had the same impression. In the meantime I make it to recognize most of the main notes (lavender, patchouli, sandalwood, etc.) pretty well but to be honest a lot of the creations I have tested got the notes perfectly blended in a way that makes it definitely very complex to pick out the single notes. Even worse if e.g. aldehydes come into play.

    Unfortunately I am more of an excursive person and so I didnt make it yet to consecrate myself to systematic lessons in testing essential oils but if I read the notes pyramid of a fougere I know its a fougere and I have an idea of it and what to approximately expect. Some people here on the board have doubtlessly this great ability but surely not everyone talking about "the sublime use of note X in a frag Y" knows really what he is talking about. Reading the reviews confirm that suspicion. Nevermind, after a certain time you will find out which member "speaks your language".....

    In the end its absolutely helpfull to know the notes to be able to describe fragrances but I know a couple of reviewers here on the board which have the talent to describe frags in a more impessionistic (but sometimes very "precise") way without refering to the notes. Thats great too and I love it....

    Nice wardrobe btw!

    Christian
    Guerlain: Après L´ondée - Chanel: Cuir de Russie - Dior: Dior Homme - Divine: L´homme de coeur - Caron: Le 3me homme
    ---------------------------

    "Tra il fiore colto e l’ altro donato / l’ inesprimibile nulla" Giuseppe Ungaretti

  7. #7

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    Yeah, costello, I really like good qualitative descriptions, too. Robyogi, I think, once said that a frag "puts him in the mood to think," which set me wondering what kinds of fragrances and situations help me think. A number of reviews here have opened up associations that I wouldn't have gotten to on my own. Warm and cool, introverted and extroverted, night and day, winter and summer, masculine and feminine, etc. All of these cues are gradually giving more dimension to my olifactory map, although its still pretty crude.

    And I like what Fredricktoo says about the value of spending a lot of time with a particular frag until the layers become clear. Although it is kind of frustrating to smell something repeatedly, over hours and days, and just come away with hmmm....smells like Eau d'Hermes....hhhhmmmm, some citrus of some kind and jasmine and cumin annnndmmmm...Eau d'Hermes. The olfactory imagination, in my case anyway, is so impressionable that whatever occurs to me can take shape in the frag: oily rags, I'll think, and baby powder, and something crotchish. But any of this may have more to do with my run-of-the-mill infantile fantasies and less to do with the Eau d'Hermes my nose is currently stuck into. Ahhh, revealing a bit too much, maybe.

  8. #8

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    I've visited the places that have the essential oils.....You can learn different notes this way.......Gary

  9. #9

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    I decided to reamp this Thread, as I need some insight as well
    Off-Site Decants =) (updated 05/16/12)
    http://flacon.ambaric.net/viewtopic....7994440fd3c0ab

  10. #10

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    Notes have come to me a little at a time, and that was something I enjoyed. I didn't try to "force it." I do think that smelling herbs and spices that you have at home is a good idea. How about a trip to the local botanical garden, florist, or nursery? I bought a bunch of different kinds of "cheapo" frags at first, to help me out, comparing what I was smelling to the note pyramids. That won't cost too much and you can wear the frag too !

  11. #11

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    I had a big head start in the fact that I was interested in resins, essential oils, absolutes, and floral waters long before I got into fragrance. I'd be willing to say that 90% of the "listed" notes in fragrances list these or are loosely based on these materials, even though many fragrances are largely synthetic. I was familiar with a lot of basic materials that I could recognize or at least compare to in fragrances.

    Some others I've had to intuit by a quality shared in a number of fragrances ( namely, aldehydes ), and others I've yet to decipher ( I do not know what hedione smells like, yet I've seen a number of references to it in fragrances ). Intuiting from shared descriptions can be risky, though - castoreum smelled NOTHING like I thought it would when I first tried some genuine tincture.

    I guess you could say I came to the table a little more "fully formed" than most, but its the kind of knowledge that can be easily acquired at a store that sells essential oils and related products.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    My belief as to what certain notes were didn't match up with the reality of the notes, once I started playing with essential oils and DIY perfumery. It's worth picking up the most commonly-seen notes, along with any you might be curious about. If it weren't for this I would've had no idea that I absolutely love styrax, because I'd have had no clue what it was without trying the oil. Nanda Oils offers small 5mL bottles of many common EOs, and The Perfumer's Apprentice can fill the gaps.

    Another thing I tried to do very early on in my exploration of scent was to record the notes for each fragrance in my wardrobe into a spreadsheet, and then see where there was any overlap. I uploaded an early version of this spreadsheet here.
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  13. #13
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    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strollyourlobster View Post
    Heartfelt thanks to all of you from a relative newby! I've learned so much by eavesdropping here. I'm starting my first thread (gulp) to ask for advice about sorting out the notes in frags. How did others here get access to individual oils and extracts, etc? I've done some smearing and sniffing in organic food co-ops and so forth but this will only get you so far. A small selection of EO's won't help with synthetics or with accords, which can be so subtley intertwined that it's really hard to tell what the individual notes are.

    (Had a recent experience mixing my own frag at an aromatherapy shop with a pretty wide selection of stuff, which was very helpful and fun. It opened my eyes (nose?) to the differences between, say, vetivers and sandalwoods from different sources: what huge complexity! The actual juice is not great, quite heady and dominated by monster jasmine notes. The vetiver, sandalwood, and moss underneath aren't making much of an appearance yet. Although it is starting to calm down after a couple weeks sitting in its vial of alcohol.)

    So, those of you who are able to name notes with such wonderful specificity: how on earth did you get your educations?
    Fredericktoo has a very good point about relying on pyramids to hit the high points of a scent. Reliable pyramids are very good as a guide for what to sniff for. Some pyramids read like fantasies, though, with very vague, general, or poetic-sounding descriptors. Those have to be taken with a grain of salt. The best pyramids to use for this are those that name botanicals.

    Definitely sniff herbs and spices, as LiveJazz suggests. Another place to hang out in search of note knowledge is florist shops and botanical gardens. Even though many floral notes in perfume are imitated and supplemented by synthetics and bits and pieces of other things, you can get a good idea of what carnations or hyacinths are supposed to smell like from a good florist shop.


    Some notes are indeed very subtle, and it takes long practice, for example, to identify things like orris and violet, which are kind of similar in some ways, and different in others. Comparing scents that are orris-heavy and those that are violet-heavy is a good practice. Some scents approach the level of being soliflores, that is, they are so dominated by a single note that people associate them with that note alone, even though no perfume in commercial production is truly only one note. One such is Chanel No. 18 as an iris soliflore.


    About your experiment with mixing: There is a rule of thumb about proportions: 30% top notes, 30% heart notes, 40% base notes (including good fixatives and dispersers), by percent of odorant materials. Skimping on the base notes will result in the kind of thing you describe in your experiment, where drydowns never seem to materialize.
    Last edited by JaimeB; 15th March 2010 at 04:52 AM.
    Yr good bud,

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  14. #14

    Default Re: How to learn individual notes?

    The best way is to buy small sample bottles from sites such as White Lotus or Eden Botanicals. Not all EO's are expensive, and they have an excellent catalogue.
    When I get around to sorting them, I will soon be selling my vials of 100+ natural perfumers oils diluted to 10% in perfumers alcohol, which I have found an excellent reference point to identifying individual fragrance notes in perfume. I bought these as part of a natural botanical perfumers palette, but can't easily take them with me back to Australia. Watch my sales listing in the BN marketplace soon.

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